The worldwide slump in crude oil and natural gas prices and the major Plains Pipeline leak and spill near Refugio State Beach last May continue to roil energy operations on and offshore along the Gaviota Coast in multiple ways. The final report from the federal agency charged with maintaining pipeline safety and proper operations (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency or PHMSA) issued findings late this winter indicating that the Plains Pipeline had:
- more corrosion than expected,
- more than reported,
- and more than was found by a scheduled mechanical in-pipe inspection;
- that more oil escaped than had been previously reported;
- that delays by company personnel in sounding the alarm was actually slower than originally reported;
- and that none of the occurrences and findings met current federal standards.
Because of questions about the reliability of automated in-pipe mechanical inspections, all the Pipeline components must be re-examined using different tools and techniques, before any normal operations can be resumed by Plains. No estimate was offered about when new pipeline transport could resume.
This PHMSA report gives extra credibility to several proposed improvements to pipeline inspection and safety now making their way through Congress, including an important one co-sponsored by Lois Capps. As the American Petroleum Institute remains opposed to any changes in inspection-regulation rules, the fate of the bills is uncertain during the current session.
The report findings do not directly affect other inquiries, such as the criminal investigation and civil action now ongoing.
Exxon is processing a permit application to truck a minimum "essential" amount of oil from its offshore platform that ordinarily would go through the Plains Pipeline, to clear its lines and draw down its storage holding tanks, which are now near maximum capacity. If approved by the County (and several state agencies), this would necessitate the use of extra-large oil trucks, making many multiple trips over at least one month's time, along the 101 on the Gaviota Coast.
The combination of the Plains Pipeline total shutdown and a depressed world oil and gas price have badly crippled income for Venoco over the past year. As a result, Venoco filed for federal bankruptcy protection in March. It should be clearly understood that this is not a bankruptcy process in which Venoco would permanently close operations, but rather one where it "reorganizes its operations and refinances its corporate debt."
Venoco borrowed significant sums of money in the prior decade when interest rates were relatively high, and with low revenue from Platform Holly on the Gaviota Coast due to the Plains Pipeline shutdown, plus the huge drop in world oil and gas prices, Venoco was challenged to service its existing debt.
As a probable condition of refinancing Venoco's debt, and reducing interest (and/or principal) on existing money owed, expect to see representatives of Venoco's major lenders assume a much larger role in Venoco's operations, until the bankruptcy is discharged, and the debt service has been paid down. How such changes to management or the corporate board might play out this year is unclear.
Because of a desire for additional revenue, Venoco's extended reach application to extract more oil or gas from the Santa Barbara Channel along the Gaviota Coast from Platform Holly continues to go before the California State Land Commission's three-person board, and whether Venoco's financial ills - or this year's election year stresses - affect the application's prospects remain unclear. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is carefully monitoring Venoco's proposal for new energy operations in state waters off the Gaviota Coast.
Venoco is suing Plains All American Pipeline for $12.4 million in lost earnings.
Concurrently, the City of Goleta, as part of their first Local Coastal Plan and Zoning Code, have been evaluating Venoco's Ellwood Terminal (an inherited "nonconforming land use" from Santa Barbara County when Goleta incorporated), to ascertain whether they want to allow Venoco to continue Ellwood terminal operations under the new LCP and Zoning Code. To become better informed, Goleta City Council authorized consultants Baker & O'Brien to update a much earlier County study which tried to decide when Venoco's investment at Ellwood terminal would be fully amortized.
In fall of 2014, the study was welcomed by GCC and many other Goleta civic and conservation groups, if only to obtain more reliable and up-to-date information on Ellwood terminal's status. Goleta's original intent was for the Baker & O'Brien update-study to be completed in February of... 2015. But when there was no news from the City about the findings of the study by last fall (a year after it was initiated), many community groups began to press the City of Goleta to publicly release the new study's findings. That finally happened in mid-March 2016.
The updated Baker & O'Brien study indicates that Venoco had fully amortized their original investment at Ellwood Terminal some time between 2006-2008, which suggests that there are no orginal costs left for Venoco to recoup there.
Goleta City Council has yet to schedule new hearings to specifically offer their staff "guidance" on whether they want to retain Venoco operations at Ellwood terminal under the new LCP and Zoning Code; on whether such operations might be designated as "an acceptable use", "a nonconforming use" or an "unacceptable use". The latter, if it were made a legal finding, could necessitate Venoco to present a bonded plan to expeditiously begin an Ellwood Terminal "retirement" or shut-down plan, with attendant timelines, estimated costs, and a suite of "viable alternatives".
At present, there is no hint regarding which direction Goleta City Council might be leaning, nor even whether a final decision will be made before this fall's municipal elections.
6. Oil Train SLO hearings continue: Phillips Petroleum's application to ship large amounts of oil & gas to a proposed new facility in Nipomo [south San Luis Obispo County] by rail, across the Gaviota Coast[and many coastal communities, has gotten very high level of staff review, and very high level of community interest, testimony, and participation. The SLO County Planning Commission held multi-day hearings, just to receive public comment.
The status of the project - which GCC, like many area conservation groups, opposes - is undecided.
SLO County has set no firm timetable for a "final" decision. Given the exceptional level of public interest and controversy, experts predict that an appeal is a foregone conclusion, no matter how the issue is decided, and that litigation [by whichever side loses] is a real possibility. Because of the low world price for oil and gas, Phillips initial sense of urgency to process the application is somewhat reduced.
PROFILE: Oldest Ranching Family Celebrates 150 Years on the Gaviota Coast
Story by Guner Tautrim and Eric Hvolboll, images courtesy of Orella family archives
Family farmers are an anomaly along the Gaviota Coast – an anachronistic remnant of the past. Of the few ranching families left today on the coastal plain west of Goleta, only a handful date back into the 1800s. The most deep-rooted of these is the Orella family.
Five ranches in the Refugio area are still owned and operated by descendants of Bruno Orella and his wife, Mercedes Gonzales y Guevara.
Bruno Orella was Basque, born in Spain in 1830. After arriving in California during the gold rush era, he worked in the 1850s for the Gonzales family at their cattle ranch on the Oxnard plain, which they had received as a Mexican land grant in 1837. In 1858, Bruno Orella married Mercedes Gonzales y Guevara, the daughter of his employer, Leandro Gonzales.
Mercedes Gonzales y Guevara was born in Santa Barbara in 1841. Her family arrived in Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura in 1782. They were soldiers and settlers in Spain's colonization of California, and included indigenous Cahitan, Mexican, Black, Spanish and mestizo people from what is now Mexico.
One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1866, Bruno and Mercedes Orella moved to the Ortega adobes at the mouth of Corral Canyon between Refugio and El Capitan. The adobes are County Historical Landmarks, and are now owned by ExxonMobil.
Beginning in 1866, the Orellas purchased Refugio Canyon and then Venadito and Corral Canyons from the Ortega family, that had received the ranchos as land grants before the American conquest of California. The Orellas' ranch spread from the Tajiguas ridgeline to El Capitan Canyon, and included Refugio Beach.
The Orellas also maintained an adobe home on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara at the southwest corner of Figueroa Street. The adobe has been remodeled, and is now Aldo's Italian Restaurant.
In the 1880s, Bruno Orella invited three of his nephews from Spain to come to California and seek claims on public lands north of his ranch. All three, Julian Orella, Patricio Alegria and Ramon Saralegui, established ranches in upper Refugio Canyon before 1890.
When Bruno Orella died in 1901, his land was subdivided into 10 ranches for 10 of his children. The ranches produced sheep, cattle and then in the early 1900s, walnuts, lemons, lima beans and tomatoes. Garbanzos and avocados were farmed after 1950.
Over the ensuing century, eight of the 13 Orella family ranches were sold. Five, however, are still owned by Orella descendants.
In upper Refugio Canyon, Frank Alegria and Joyce Saralegui Orsua and their families live on their ancestors' two ranches, which their families have owned for about 130 years.
On the coast just west of El Capitan, the Erburu family, descendants of Juana Orella Erburu, have maintained their ranch overlooking the channel for 150 years.
At the mouth of Venadito Canyon and on the hills overlooking Refugio Beach, Mark Tautrim and his family operate Orella Ranch. In upper Venadito Canyon, Mark Tautrim's aunt, Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll and her family raise avocados on her grandmother Josefa Orella Erro's La Paloma Ranch, with its iconic 114-year-old single-board wooden ranch house. Both ranches date from 1866.
These five families have lived, ranched and farmed on the Gaviota Coast as neighbors and cousins for six and seven generations. While this span of time is very significant in California history, it of course pales to the Chumash people’s occupation of the coast for over 10,000 years. In fact, the historic period since the late 1700s is probably less than 2% of the time the land was occupied by Chumash people. Two of their largest villages, Kuyamu and Mikiw were located on the ocean bluffs at the mouth of Dos Pueblos Canyon. “Dos Pueblos” translates as “two villages” – named for these two villages.
There are a number of interesting historic sites on the coast in addition to the Corral Canyon adobes, including Refugio Cove, which was a prominent smuggling site during the Spanish and Mexican eras, the Vicente Ortega adobe at Arroyo Hondo (1842), Gaviota Pass and pier, built for Hollister/Dibblee cattle shipping (1875), Point Conception Lighthouse (1881), Vista del Mar School (1927) at Alcatraz, the World War II German POW camp (1944) on the Edwards Ranch, and the Pico adobe (1871) atop Refugio Pass – Ronald Reagan’s Western White House during the 1980s. Sadly, other landmarks such as the Den Adobe and the Naples Chapel at Dos Pueblos, as well as the 1916 Gaviota Store, have been lost.
Other families, including the De la Guerra-Dibblee family northwest of Gaviota Pass, the Giorgi family near Las Cruces, and the Dreyfus family in Eagle Canyon, have also operated ranches in the area for over a century.
Local stories and history are recounted in J. J. Hollister’s book, Gaviota Boy, Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll’s book, Mi Refugio, and artist Chris Chapman’s books, Portraits of Gaviota and earlier this year, Stories of Arroyo Hondo.
If you spend enough time on the coast, you’ll undoubtedly meet some of the Orella family or visit their isolated ranch homes. If you’re familiar with the rugged beauty of coast and nearby mountains, you’ll understand why they’ve stayed living there now for 150 years!
The Corporate Benefits of One Percent for the Planet
or the World’s Largest Donor / Non-profit Dating Service
Assisting businesses to support Gaviota stewardship
by Greg Karpain
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy has been a non-profit member of One Percent for the Planet for over five years. Why does a non-profit join another non-profit like One Percent for the Planet? It's a good question, and one we’re happy that One Percent answered.
One Percent for the Planet has quickly become the largest environmental network in the world! It’s an international non-profit organization, whose corporate members pledge and contribute at least one percent of their annual sales revenue to support environmental causes, and the non-profits behind those causes, such as the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC).
Their One Percent for the Planet mission is to build, support and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet. One Percent for the Planet corporate members assist non-profit organizations, such as GCC, that protect land, forests, rivers, oceans, and also encourage sustainable methods of energy production.
The result? More than 1,200 member companies in 48 countries are currently giving one percent of their sales directly to more than 3,300 nonprofits. Donations totaling more than $130 million dollars are now helping our environment (and future). One Percent works with corporations to find a non-profit, to which the company feels most aligned, and introduces the two for further discussion. It’s kind of a dating service and match-maker for environmental companies that want to create change, and those non-profits whose sole purpose it to effect those changes.
Yvonne Chounard, the founder of Patagonia Corporation, and cofounder of One Percent for the Planet, says, "[We] have a responsibility to the planet. Give to the people who are willing to do the good work."
Global Social Marketing and Increased Sales Revenues
Companies can participate in the One Percent global network at a variety of levels, including
- Whole company participation (e.g. Patagonia)
- Branding (e.g. Planet Petco)
- Product line marketing (e.g. Honest Tea)
Associating your corporate brand with the One Percent for the Planet concept and network is solid global social marketing. For example, 1 billion impressions have been stamped on member packaging annually, helping promote $100 billion in network sales over the past 10 years. By donating one percent of annual sales revenue, your company gets double value on the dollar: increased brand recognition and sales, as well as pro-actively involvement to help non-profits meet your corporate environmental goals.
As a small business owner noted, "It's helped my sales a lot to be part of One Percent, and given me added exposure, and easier access to some markets that I might not have entered into."
The bottom line for profit: One Percent for the Planet helps companies grow their member’s businesses and revenue by being socially responsible.
Ask your company to join and donate to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy
In 2008, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, as well as the Naples Coalition, applied for and underwent the One Percent rigorous application process, and were accepted as a non-profit member of the organization. If you are a member of a local, national, or international business, we ask that you bring One Percent to the attention of your company and see if they would like to join One Percent and add the Gaviota Coast Conservancy to its annual giving list (see below for contact information as to how we can help you with your presentation to your company).
If your company is interested in becoming an approved One Percent corporate partner and donating to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (or other member non-profit of your choice) please call Janet or Brook. Donating to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy helps to preserve the rural character and habitat of our unique and stunning Gaviota Coast.
Sign up online http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/become-.‐a-.‐member-.‐company/
Don't miss our annual Gaviota Coast Conservancy benefit art show by Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment (SCAPE), "Visions of the Gaviota Coast: The Jewel in our Backyard", featuring photography by Reeve Woolpert and paintings by SCAPE painters, with silent auction and art sales to benefit Gaviota Coast Conservancy. The Bacara Resort and Spa is sponsoring this event, with locally-handcrafted wine by Standing Sun, live music, a silent auction, high-value raffle and great schmoozing.
This event is free to the public!
Raffle prize: a one-night stay and a spa treatment at the Bacara Resort and Spa!
Gaviota Coast Conservancy provided the following letter to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors this morning, in support of awarding a CREF Grant for the acquisition by the Trust for Public Land of Gaviota Cove. We encourage our friends to add their own emails of support should they feel moved to do so. Send to:
Mr. Peter Adam, Chairperson
Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors
105 East Anapamu St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
By Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: CREF - Support for Gaviota Cove Property Acquisition
Honorable members of the Board of Supervisors,
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) strongly supports staff’s recommendation and encourages your Board to award a CREF Grant to the Trust for Public Land for the acquisition of the Gaviota Cove property.
The GCC is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the rural character of the Gaviota Coast for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations.
The acquisition of the property will protect two creeks, protecting important wildlife corridors and habitat.
The beautiful coastal landscape to the south of Highway 101, including coastal sage scrub, riparian woodland and habitat, and unobstructed ocean views will be protected with the acquisition of this land.
The acquisition of Gaviota Cove is strategically important as it will provide appropriate connectivity to beach and bluff top portions of Gaviota State Park. The public will be well served by the potential public access and Coastal Trail segment that will be enabled by this acquisition.
The Gaviota Coast is nationally recognized for its beauty, biodiversity, cultural significance and recreational opportunity. The GCC strongly supports the award of a CREF Grant to the Trust for Public Land for the acquisition of the Gaviota Cove property.
Thank you for your support of this important acquisition.
Mike Brown, President
It’s done. The California Coastal Commission voted 7-5 to fire their Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester.
Dr. Lester’s response to being fired is noteworthy for his statesmanship and his commitment to the Coast: “It’s been a privilege to serve the Commission as the Executive Director for the last four years… I want to thank the public for your participation and engagement and as I said at the beginning of the day… it’s a real testament and it’s a celebration of the vitality of the California Coastal program to all Californians. So if there is any silver lining, I am so energized by all the people who came together for this…. This was a spontaneous expression of commitment to the coast of California and we should all be proud of that.”
Perhaps there has never been a time in the last 40 years when coastal California appears to be subject to greater risk of inappropriate development. Regardless of who takes over the Executive Director role, it appears that the Commission is moving in the direction of quicker development approvals and fewer opportunities for coastal advocates to intervene and offer changes that would enhance protection of the coast.
This is a particularly challenging time for the Gaviota Coast. To date, my colleagues at the Gaviota Coast Conservancy along with concerned citizens and partner environmental organizations have been remarkably successful in holding the line in the face of multiple development initiatives on the eastern portion of the Gaviota Coast. Our past successes were due not only to the hard work of many committed individuals, but also the strong stand that the Coastal Commission typically took on allowable development in the coastal zone.
But our recent experience with the Commission suggests that change is already occurring and the Commission is moving to speed up processing through restricting public participation in hearings and negotiating substantive changes in projects without opportunities for public input. That Dr. Lester publicly advocated for a more robust public process in a recent Gaviota Coast case may have been a contributing factor in his dismissal and the Commission may be looking for a new Executive Director who will share their view of the need to expedite the approval process and limit public participation.
Those who care about the future of the Gaviota Coast and all of coastal California need to make their voices heard. Please tell your elected representatives how you feel about the Commission’s action:
Whoever replaces Dr. Lester, we will continue our work and, as always, we value your ongoing support in our efforts to protect the Gaviota Coast.
In respect for the earth,
Michael S. Brown, President
California Coastal Commission Considers Firing its Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester
Santa Barbara Development Illustrates Questionable Actions
Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board Member Phil McKenna wrote this Op Ed in today's Santa Barbara Independent: http://www.independent.com/news/2016/feb/02/coastal-commission-goes-rogue/
The California Coastal Commission has stood steadfast against inappropriate coastal development for nearly 44 years, while under near constant pressure from real estate interests. All the while, it has maintained a rock solid stance of support for protecting coastal resources and public access and recreational opportunities.
That could change if the Commission fires its Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester, an action they will consider at their February 10 meeting in Morro Bay. We have found the Coastal Commission staff led by Dr. Lester to be fair and hard working. We have not always agreed with them, but we always felt we got an honest hearing. Losing Lester’s leadership, under ill-defined and suspicious circumstances, would be a blow to the reputation and integrity of the Commission which has been essential in defending our coastline.
A hearing will be held Wednesday, February 10 at 10am in Morro Bay, to take public comments on the proposed firing of Dr. Lester. You can comment in person or via email: Email the Commission at StatusOfExecutiveDirector@coastal.ca.gov
There is a Santa Barbara connection to this issue that illuminates Dr. Lester’s integrity and leadership. Read on... it’s an interesting story.
In April 2014, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Santa Barbara Surfrider formally requested that the Coastal Commission review the County approval of the Paradiso del Mare project; a two estate development on the bluff east of Naples that would obliterate a prolific white tail kite nesting site, disturb one of only two harbor seal rookeries on the Santa Barbara South Coast, destroy longstanding public access, and directly facilitate a 10 lot subdivision on antiquated Naples lots.
At the Commission hearing, a significant number of the public were denied the right to testify, while the applicant was given the opportunity to change the settlement at the meeting without the benefit of notifying the public or letting the public comment on the changes. It was truly OUTRAGEOUS. We were stunned.
Before the Commissioners voted, Dr. Lester stated that the action the Commission was taking was highly unusual. He recommended that the Commission take jurisdiction over the project and change it to address the myriad project inconsistencies with our County Coastal Plan. We thought this was excellent advice, but the Commission voted 7 to 4 to let the County’s approval stand without review.
During a pause in the voting one of the Commissioners who ultimately voted against reviewing the project, said on an open mic in regards to the impact of the impending Commission action’s on the local environmental community, “Blow their minds; let’s blow their f***ing minds.”
Dr. Lester was the only person on the dais with the integrity and presence of mind to formulate a fair and legal path to the hearing of this issue. His insight and integrity were ignored.
We have sued the Commission for violating the Bagley Keene Open Meeting Law, failing to comply with the California Coastal Act and to provide the public with proper notice of project modifications, and improperly limiting public testimony.
The Commission needs to hear from you about its proposed firing of Dr. Lester.
Email the Commission at StatusOfExecutiveDirector@coastal.ca.gov referencing agenda items 8-10 of the Feb. 10 meeting with your support of Dr. Lester. In his year-end report to the Commission, Dr. Lester enumerated these accomplishments in his five year strategic plan.
- New penalties for those who illegally deny beach access,
- Assistance to communities in planning for sea level rise,
- Updated numerous local community coastal plans,
- Reduced process times for permits and appeals,
- Created a public database on projects under consideration,
- Treated beach access for low-income and minority residents as a civil rights issue.
The California Coastal Commission has championed environmental integrity and the public’s interest across the entire 1,100 miles of our coastline for over 40 years. The effort to fire Dr. Lester is a blatant attempt to move the Commission away from benefiting all Californians toward the interests of a narrow group of developers.
Please voice your concern!
- Email the Commission.
- Attend the hearing: February 10, 2016, 10am, Inn at Morro Bay, 60 State Park Road, Morro Bay. Public testimony will begin shortly after 10am and the Commission will deliberate the issue in closed doors after the close of public testimony, reconvening in public to announce the decision.
- Visit http://www.actcoastal.org/wiki/Main_Page for much more information, media coverage, and an offer to assist paying for transportation costs.
Please make your voice heard. Twenty years ago the Commission tried to fire Peter Douglas, the first and long-tenured Executive Director who preceded Dr. Lester. Three hundred citizens spoke out at that hearing and won the day.
We can do it again!
Click here to view the 2015 Winter Gaviota Coast Conservancy Coastline
Gaviota Coast Conservancy is proud to announce that the University of California, Santa Barbara Natural Reserve System is turning 50! To celebrate 50 years of research and preservation, the @UCSB Natural Reserve System is hosting 6 events from Oct 1-Nov 7. As proud sponsors, we are happy to support the LARGEST university-administered reserve system in the world. Join us at one (or all!) of the events this celebration has to offer. Head to nrs.ucsb.edu/events to register and RSVP asap, as there's limited space. See you there!